Meet Me in The Gardens

Review by Chris O’Rourke (The Arts Review).

Dublin Can Be Heaven

There’s a thin line between site-specific and guided tour, something which Shiva Productions “Meet Me in The Gardens” cleverly exploits. A series of four short plays by Sharon McCoy set in Dublin’s National Botanic Gardens, “Meet Me in The Gardens” purports to explore the rich history of the National Botanic Gardens going back as far as 1822. Yet if actual history is thin on the ground, what emerges is far more satisfying, encompassing something of the spirit of the gardens were souls meet, stories are told, and a little enjoyment is shared.

“Meet Me in The Gardens” offers a very civilised promenade through four shows and one of Dublin’s most iconic spaces. Promenade being the operative word, ensuring those of the Fit Bit or iPhone Watch disposition close their circles and get their steps in. After a lengthy ramble, made sumptuously enjoyable by scorching glorious sunshine, events get underway with the comic The Resurrection Men. Set in 1832, the exploits of the worldly Cormac and the foppish Finn, waiting for the sun to set before sneaking into Glasnevin Cemetery to steal bodies, speaks little to the history of the Botanic Gardens but much to its spirit, with two lively performances by Joe Purcell as Cormac and Rory Dignam as Finn.

Early Birds, set ten years earlier, sees a drunken James White, in another high energy performance by Dignam, trying to impress, or blackmail, the hard working laundress, Mary McCoy, an impressive Claire Blennerhasset, into allowing him to take her daughter Margaret, a delightful Karen Kelly, to a dance. Already, themes of clashing opposites are emerging, which the final two pieces continue to explore with much heart and humour.

The most thought-provoking, and in many senses theatrical of the quartet, The Fate Of Emergency, sees director Aoibhinn Marie Gilroy cleverly utilising a vast area of gardens to terrific effect. Here, a troubled Wittgenstein, superbly rendered by Cathal Quinn, and a troubled nun, a captivating Claire Blennerhasset, along with an impressive Cormac Melia as newspaper boy Tommy, exchange deep held secrets on a bench in 1939. Those unfamiliar with the nuances and ramifications of Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws of 1935 might find this piece a little heavy-handed. But there’s a backbone here that deserves further exploration, even if, in its current incarnation, its weighed down by the intensity of the ideas it attempts to address in so short, and light, a space.

The final offering, Rags and Tatters, finds us squarely in the Tinder world of today, in which an endearing Karen Kelly as Molly, meets the opportunist Jimmy, another engaging performance by Dignam, for a date in the Botanic Gardens. Delightful, touching, with the best line of the day by far, Rags and Tatters rounds out an enjoyable, afternoon ramble.

Like the ghost tours of Edinburgh, “Meet Me in The Gardens” marries theatre, history, and something of the spirit of the place in a leisurely, enjoyable performance. If McCoy’s writing doesn’t always smooth away all its edges, historical and otherwise, it’s because it’s attempting to reach as broad an audience as possible, from the very young to the more mature, which it succeeds in doing incredibly well.

Aoibhinn Marie Gilroy’s direction ensures everything moves at a steady, but not too hectic pace, fitting for a ramble through The Botanic Gardens. All in all, a charming way to spend a weekend afternoon. “Meet Me in The Gardens,” by Sharon McCoy, produced by Shiva Productions, runs at the National Botanic Garden on certain days at weekends on till July 14 For more information, visit the National Botanic Gardens or Shiva Productions

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Responses to Angels in the Park

“You deserve all the plaudits. The productions were excellent. The promenade use of the space was inspired [...] The audience were entertained, challenged and went home changed somewhat by what they’d seen. You can’t ask for more.”

“Congratulations on a truly beautiful piece of work”

“Well written, exceptional performances, great directing. The whole ‘park’ concept worked brilliantly. Well done and congrats!”

“I thought the whole thing was brilliant. It was witty, well-rounded and superbly acted [....] so clever in terms of leading the audience around from setting to setting [...] Well done on a great production and I hope that it catches the eye of some entity who’ll fund you to produce more in a similar vein. I’ll certainly be talking to people about it.”

“A magical afternoon [...] a truly enjoyable experience. Well done, more!!!!”

“6 free plays in one hour… yes please! The link has all the info you need but the quick summary is a lot of people meet outside the spar in Ranelagh at 1pm and you all walk into a park where you watch 6 great plays for an hour and hopefully leave with a smile on your face like I did today.”

Irish Independent Review of Blood Knot

Reviewed by John McKeown

With just two men in a tin shack in a crumbling section of Port Elizabeth, Athol Fugard’s 1961 play conjures up the insidious oppressiveness of apartheid. It does so subtly, indirectly, through the close relationship between the two young men, Morrie and Zac, who are half brothers, and with a great deal of unsentimental warmth and humour. Indeed, it’s initially a kind of South African Odd Couple, with Zac, who works in a whites-only park all day, coming home every night with foot sores, to Morrie, who, with feminine considerateness, has a foot bath waiting.

Morrie is saving every cent Zac brings home for a little farm in some empty corner of Africa. But Zac would rather enjoy the present, ideally with a woman. Morrie suggests he finds a female pen pal. Zac hears from Ethel, ’18 and well-developed,’ a white girl. Zac is black. It’s a big problem. Ethel’s brother is a policeman to boot.

It’s through the games of encouragement and discouragement they play on each other, that we see the ugly realities of the system they live under. Morrie vividly points out the dangerous consequences for Zac of playing epistolary cat and mouse with Ethel, while Zac arouses Morrie’s white ambitions with visions of him taking Ethel for tea. For Morrie is light-skinned enough to pass for white, another twist in the knot of common blood between them.

Director Aoibhinn Marie Gilroy ensures there isn’t one dull moment. While Keith Ward as Morrie, and Kolade Agboke allow the play’s language of biblical simplicity and power to possess and define them fully and naturally.